She's so fine.

She's pretty and hip, too. And did I mention a little sassy? A fabulous dining companion, if I do say so myself.  

Allow me to introduce this newcomer to our kitchen--she's so ... shiso. (You didn't think I was talking about myself, now did you?) Shiso--a saw-toothed, heart-shaped herb--is getting terrific press in our place. Seems like everyday I try her out in some new dish and everyone raves (and by everyone I mean Matt and I. Finn is more into flinging food than raving about it these days ...)  

We first encoutered shiso in Vietnam last Christmas, as part of the HUGE bag of greens that accompanied our Vietnamese omelet. Those Vietnamese love their greens, I tell you--there were entire branches of basil and mint, and I'm pretty sure a whole head of lettuce was thrown in as well. But after we first bit into a shiso leaf, we spent the rest of the evening picking meticulously though the bag, finding every one we could. Mind you, we didn't have a name at that point. It was more like the search for "the best green leaf I've ever put in my mouth."


Shiso is full-bodied, almost meaty; pungent in a rocket-mustardy way, astringent like mint and basil, a little citrusy, a little woodsy, maybe even a little musty. If you eat a lot of Japanese food you've probably had shiso, tucked under some tuna in what looked like a garnish, or sprinkled over sashimi. 

We use shiso in several ways so far. As whole leaves, we add it to the green arsenal for summer rolls (along with basil, mint, cilantro and spinach), fry it in tempura, or tuck it into salad greens. Rolled up and slivered--(do you know this trick, good for basil or mint or any other leaf you want thinly sliced? Take a stack of leaves, roll up tightly, then slice as thin as you can. Voila--herb confetti.) So, as herb confetti, shiso is lovely on:

  • sliced tomatoes, as a change from the ubiquitous basil, 

  • sliced cucumbes, dressed lightly with rice vinegar, sesame oil and sesame seeds, 

  • salmon-potato salad, with a creamy wasabi-lime dressing, or 

  • tuna nicoise, with lots of capers and olives.   

Clearly my bias is to pair shiso with light, fresh, flavors, or to help balance out the richness of seafood. I imagine it would be lovely with citrus (perhaps on a grapefruit-shrimp salad?) or come fall, with a heavier mushroom dish.  

Do invite shiso over to your house to play; don't be shy, she's friendly too.


mndendi said...

shiso...love the name, eager to taste someday. thanks for the herb confetti trick!

Jeff Forster said...

Nice! The World's Largest, Seated, Outdoor, Bronze Buddha! I've been there! Is it in Lantau? I remember a fun, long ferry ride.